Church runs out of prayer warriors for the dead
PALO, Leyte, Philippines—With thousands of dead people to be remembered today, the living have suddenly run out of mamaratbat—local women who assist the Catholic Church in praying for the dead.
More than 7,000 victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), the world’s most destructive storm, will be remembered at Masses and special prayers in churches across the country, but in this town, the nearby town of Tanauan and the capital city of Tacloban—where a staggering number of people perished—the local clergy and the laity are reeling from the lack of people to pray for the dead.
Local Catholic Church tradition requires a novena—daily prayer for nine days—after which a feast is held in honor of the dead on the last day called tapos (the end) here.
“There are just so many dead. Our prayer warriors cannot keep up with the need to pray for them,” said Belen Dacillo, officer in charge of the Legion of Mary, of which most of the mamaratbat are members.
Dacillo, a 73-year-old grandmother, said Palo Archbishop John Du had called on the mamaratbat to persevere and sacrifice in praying for God’s mercy for the thousands who died in the storm.
Mamaratbat Linda Barbosa of the Catholic Women’s League is fully booked in the run-up to today’s multiple death anniversaries, and her son complains that she is hardly at home.
“She is so busy praying for the dead, I hardly see her,” said Barbosa’s 32-year-old son Archieles.
“The dead can’t help themselves, so our dear departed are dependent on our prayers—from us the living,” said Sr. Corinne Olaguer, a Catholic nun from the Order of St. Francis of Assisi.
The shortage has caused relatives of the dead to “import” mamaratbat from faraway places like Barangay Salvacion village chief Silvestre Montejo, who hired somebody from Barangay Luntad, 2 kilometers away, to pray for his wife Glenda, who drowned in Yolanda’s storm surges.
Bending the rules
The dire shortage of mamaratbat has led the local Catholic Church to bend its rules a bit to deal with the problem.
“With a problem like that, we can dispense with the novena because the liturgical remedy for that is the High Mass,” said Fr. Oscar Florencio, rector of St. John the Evangelist School of Theology here.
Archbishop Du is scheduled to say several Masses today at different mass graves in Palo and in Tacloban City.
The novena requires a mamaratbat to lead the prayers. Although the practice of the novena is not explicit in the New Testament, early Greek and Roman church influences had families praying for nine consecutive days after the death of a loved one and feasting on the last day.
On a bright note, the multitude of faithful planning to hold a feast for their dead has fired up a frenzy of economic activity here, with local markets and Robinson’s Place mall in Tacloban enjoying brisk sales on Friday.
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